Welcome!

If you're just coming here for the first time, uh... you're late. The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story). But it's still kicking 1-2x a week, and it's better late than never! Before reading any of the "reviews", you should read the intro, the FAQ, the MOVIES I HAVE ALREADY SEEN list, and if you want, the glossary of genre terms and "What is Horror?", which explains some of the "that's not horror!" entries. And to keep things clean, all off topic posts are re-dated to be in JANUARY 2007 (which was before I began doing this little project) once they have 'expired' (i.e. are 10 days old).

Due to many people commenting "I have to see this movie!" after a review, I have decided to add Amazon links within the reviews (they are located at the bottom), as well as a few links to the Horror Movie A Day Store around the page, hopefully non-obstructively. Amazon will also automatically link things they find relevant, so there might be a few random links in a review as well. If they become annoying, I'll remove the functionality. Right now I'm just kind of amused what they come up with (for example, they highlighted 'a horror movie' in the middle of one review and it links to, of all things, the 50 Chilling Movies Budget Pack!!!).

Last but not least, some reviews contain spoilers (NOTE - With a few exceptions, anything written on the back of the DVD or that occurs less than halfway through the movie I do NOT consider a spoiler). I will be adding 'spoiler alerts' for these reviews as I go through and re-do the older reviews (longtime readers may notice that there is now a 'show more' which cleaned up the main page, as well as listing the source of the movie I watched, i.e. Theaters, DVD, TV) to reflect the new format. This is time consuming, so bear with me.

Thanks for coming by and be sure to leave comments, play nice, and as always, watch Cathy's Curse.

PLEASE, GO ON...

HMAD Screening: NIGHTMARE ON ELM ST 5: THE DREAM CHILD

I've been doing HMAD shows at the New Beverly for almost 5 years now, and in that time only one movie has sold out: Nightmare on Elm Street 4. Granted it's the series' biggest hit (until FvJ came along anyway), and we had a lot of cast, but I was still surprised that it was more of a draw than even Scream or Halloween II (both quite crowded, but not quite sold out). At the time, I promised the crowd to come back in 2014 for the next one, and I'm a man of my word, so on August 23rd, at 11:59pm, I'll host the 25th anniversary screening of Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, in glorious 35mm!

I've always gone back and forth on this entry; sometimes I just can't deal with "Super Freddy" and the weirdo plot involving Alice's unborn child, other times I appreciate the darker tone (compared to 4 and 6 anyway) and less populated cast, making it feel more like the original than the crowded 3rd and 4th films. And unlike Michael and Jason, I actually enjoy getting little pieces of Freddy's backstory, so the flashbacks here (including one with Robert Englund sans makeup) were highlights. Also, while it's a bit vague in the finished product (this one had a lot of rewriting during production), I liked the concept behind this group of teens, where they all had less than desirable home lives and overbearing parents. By this point we can assume none of the kids being targeted were actually children of the parents who killed Freddy all those years before, so I like that they were able to at least attempt a thematic "sins of the parent" idea, even if it doesn't fully play. Also this is the last sequel I need to see on 35mm, so I can cross off another entry on my bucket list!

But really the reason this one is worth watching is for Lisa Wilcox, promoted to full heroine after having to awkwardly share the limelight with the Dream Warriors in the last movie. I'll never get why they didn't have her back for the 6th one since she didn't die and was quite loved by the fans, but it's their loss - and I'm happy to report that Ms. Wilcox will be returning to the New Bev for Q&A, as I guess she had enough fun last time to spend another Saturday night talking to us nerds! She said she would reach out to one of her co-stars, hopefully that works out and we can announce him/her as well!

The New Beverly is located at 7165 Beverly Blvd in Los Angeles, 90036 (2 blocks west of La Brea). Street parking is easy to find - Formosa is your best bet, usually (just watch the signs on the other side streets as some of them are permit only). Tickets are 8 bucks cash or card at the door, or online at BrownPaperTickets. I'll have some DVDs to hand out for dumb trivia questions, and as always the Q&A will be BEFORE the movie, so get there on time! The nightmare begins at 11:59 pm on Saturday, August 23rd!

And once again the awesome Jacopo Tenani has designed an eye-catching promo ad for the show - if you are so inclined to use it on your blog to tell your friends about the screening, please credit him!

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Possession Of Michael King (2014)

AUGUST 7, 2014

GENRE: MOCKUMENTARY, POSSESSION
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (PROMO SCREENING)

I forget if it was here or in a BAD article, but I recently came to the conclusion that the reason I am less critical of possession/exorcism movies than many of my peers is that I saw The Exorcist relatively late considering when I started watching horror movies - I was 19, well over a decade after my first viewings of Texas Chain Saw, Friday the 13th, etc. So I was already a bit desensitized (and had probably seen a couple of its knockoffs), and thus it didn't give me the nightmares and permanently scarred psyche that those who saw it when they were 10 or 12 have had ever since. And in turn, when a movie like The Possession of Michael King comes along and fails to be "as scary as The Exorcist" (now and forever the point of comparison), it's not as big a deal to me - I quite like Friedkin's film and recognize its power, but it's not so important to me than the average knockoff can't ever be enjoyed.

Incidentally I saw Exorcist for the first time right around the same time (possibly even the same week) as Blair Witch Project, which remains the alpha and omega of found footage movies, at least with regards to how realistic the device is implemented. I can't recall if it says so in the film or if it's just part of the well-established lore surrounding the film thanks to the website and Sci-Fi Channel specials, but the story goes, the police found Heather and Josh's footage out in the woods, all out of order and unmarked. Having no idea what to do with it, they gave it to the local film school and asked them to piece together the events in order so that they could use it for their investigation. So any "movie-like" moments had that built in explanation, not that they indulged in it beyond adding comic relief at the top of the film. Michael King, on the other hand, lacks any sort of explanation for how we're seeing what we are, which had me (and my friend) questioning the presentation. Why did it have score? Who put it together for us to watch? Why do his home videos of his wife, clearly shot with a digital camera, have an 8mm color tint and framing to them?

However, it otherwise DOES justify the gimmick a lot better than many others of late; after the wife's death via car accident (which he blames on a psychic telling her to be somewhere to catch a job opportunity that never actually came - had she carried on with her original plans she wouldn't have been in the spot where she was hit), our hero Michael takes it upon himself to make a documentary to prove that psychic readings, demons, spirits, etc are not real. His hope is that by proving there is no truth behind any of this stuff he can help someone else avoid the same fate as his wife - so of course within 15 minutes we see proof that demons and such are in fact real. He tries to rationalize it at first, and then spends a good chunk of the movie trying to vanquish whatever has possessed him. All of this is pretty standard stuff, we get jump scares, moments where he can't remember what he just did, he scares his family members... other than the rare sight of a male going through these motions (Regan, Emily Rose, Nell Sweetzer... demons sure love the ladies) it's nothing to write reviews about, really.

But then there's a twist of sorts - the demon pretty much completely takes over, and his sister has taken his daughter out of harm's way after he clearly kills the family dog. So you have a third act that's almost entirely a one-man show where a fully possessed guy is smashing up his house, talking about bugs, or (when briefly getting control) trying to kill himself. And even the "Why are they filming?" question has a good answer for once - not only did he set up cameras around the house (because of course) but he has a little pen-sized cam on his neck (two of them actually, it's a sort of collar) that I guess the demon didn't see the need to remove. So you get unusual angles on the action (particularly during a bit where he assaults the guy who helped him conjure the demon), and a refreshing lack of people filming their friends getting murdered, which is what most FF movies end up doing. Again, there's no real explanation for how we're seeing this footage (he seemingly destroys the computer that I assumed had contained all the footage), but at least the in-moment logic works.

It's unfortunate that writer/director/producer/etc (the giant ass credits at the end made his repeated crediting of himself all the more obnoxious) David Jung insisted on attempting to make the audience deaf by the end of his 80 or so minute movie. Not one for subtle scares, he constantly goes for the increasingly tiresome (particularly in FF movies) approach of adding loud distortion out of nowhere to make the movie theoretically more terrifying. It may work on occasion (i.e. the first time), but by the end it gets pretty numbing and obnoxious - you can sense when they're coming (the movie will get quiet) and plug your ears while rolling your eyes. I like that he used camera distortion to add to the effect (as if the demon was possessing the camera as well), but as with all types of scares, less is more - had he been a bit more selective with this concept, the movie as a whole would have been better. You could sense the audience getting tired of having their ears assaulted; eventually it became a bit like one of those internet gags where they tell you to stare at a picture and then Pazuzu will appear accompanied by a loud noise - except 20 times in a row.

But there was enough I liked to give it a pass. Michael's driving force was rather touching (it's very rare I feel sad for anyone in a modern horror flick, let alone a found footage one), and other than a painful "homage" at the very end I thankfully wasn't being reminded of Exorcist every 5 minutes (or Last Exorcism, an even more apt comparison given the found footage approach). The occasional bits of humor were well implemented, and the pacing was fast, which is always tough for a FF film. And it was vastly more entertaining than the ghost hunter guy who talked before the movie and played some audio recordings of potential EVP - it's hard enough to buy into this stuff when we're seeing it on Ghost Hunters or whatever, but when it's a guy just playing audio? We just have to take his word for it that the "get out" we hear wasn't added later or staged at the time? And that was one of the better ones; another one he played sounded like someone's cell going off. Ooooh. This pointless diversion kept me from sticking around for the Q&A as I had to get back to my own demonic entity (a piss-happy baby), which I felt bad about since my friend was moderating, but made me feel guilty about my own Q&As as they are always before the movie (since we're at midnight and the guests probably don't want to stick around until 2 am). I hope I'm not that boring when you just want to watch the movie!

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Cabin Fever: Patient Zero (2014)

AUGUST 4, 2014

GENRE: SPLATTER, SURVIVAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

I don't know why Image/RLJ is putting Cabin Fever: Patient Zero into theaters (or at least, A theater) beyond, I guess, the ability to say it was a theatrical release when selling it elsewhere or marketing to someone. Maybe it was a contractual thing? It's certainly not because of the quality - it's technically proficient and boasts some pretty terrific FX courtesy of Vincent Guastini, but the script is laughably bad and the concept flimsy; at times it manages to make the average DTV movie look good. So if you absolutely must see this thing, watch it on VOD or Blu-ray where it belongs - don't shell out $12.50 like I did, with the minor optimism that it was getting this shot because it deserved it.

I mean, it certainly couldn't be the name brand alone that got it there, right? Eli Roth's original was over a decade ago, and it wasn't exactly a trend-setter - his next film, Hostel, was the one that helped launch a wave of similar films; I don't recall being inundated with "Cabin Fever ripoffs". And the first sequel was fun but released without much fanfare due to the well publicized production issues (with director Ti West wanting his name off the film, for starters), making it hard for me to believe that the words "Cabin Fever" have the same drawing power as, say, "Hellraiser" (another series that curiously got back its (barely) theatrical mojo with its last installment). And it doesn't seem like a very lucrative gamble - there were 4 others in the screening with me (the one show this theater - the only one in Los Angeles showing it - offers per day), and even less over the weekend when my friend Joe went - he said besides him and his friend, the only other person in the theater was incredulous that they watched it, only to reveal he was the father of one the actors which is why he "had" to sit through it! Hah!

Furthermore, if it's the name brand they're banking on, why the hell did they make a movie that barely feels like a Cabin Fever movie? It's definitely the same flesh-eating virus, so this doesn't appear to be a case of someone slapping a franchise name on an unrelated movie like the Italians used to do. The first two may have had different sensibilities and influences, but they were both Troma-ish with their gleeful application of the humor and gore blend, keeping actual scares to a minimum in favor of gooey fun. Not the case here; beyond a somewhat amusing catfight between virus-stricken ladies that are literally tearing each other apart (sadly shot in the dark so you can barely appreciate the carnage), there's nothing really fun about the movie at all. Considering that the plot is about a bachelor party gone horribly wrong*, it's insane to think that the movie never really has any of the debauchery that the other films reveled in - even the pisspoor (and way too obvious) attempt to match the "fingerbang misfire" scene from the original lacks any perverse joy. You're just wondering when they'll get to the obvious reveal (one of our heroes goes down on his girlfriend, who already shows signs of infection. Guess what happens when she climaxes?), and probably even let down that they only offer a shot of his face instead of the, er, infected area (come on, you know Eli woulda had 3 cameras on that thing!).

And those are the only highlights! The rest is pretty tame and not particularly interesting or exciting. The subtitle refers to Sean Astin's character, whose family has been ravaged by the disease (off-screen, before the movie began) and seems to be immune, which prompts a couple of scientists (including one that has her cleavage exposed at all times, another thing that SHOULD be exploitative fun but just seems like a jackass producer making a suggestion no one questioned) to quarantine him and run tests to see if his blood can provide a cure. Meanwhile, our hero is being taken to his bachelor party by his brother, his best friend, and a female childhood pal who is with his brother but clearly has her sights set on him. The party is nothing more than sitting on a virgin beach and drinking beers/smoking weed, which is not only kind of lame in conception but also lame for a horror movie about a flesh eating virus - there are actually fewer people here than in the first film (to say nothing of the well-populated sequel). There is a brief hope that they will just bring the virus to the wedding and let havoc be wreaked, but nope - the bride and everyone else at the wedding is written out almost as soon as they are introduced. I guess at one point this was pitched as "Hangover meets Cabin Fever!" but somewhere along the line any notion of fun or even all out chaos was dropped. I'm sure they didn't have a blank check, but even if they were forced to limit how many infected victims we see, they didn't have to keep what was left from being fun.

Here's what they DID keep (assuming there ever WAS any idea of doing more, of course): our heroes (brothers) fighting over a girl, generic drama about the hero abandoning his best friend/business partner to work for his father-in-law (the specifics of either job are never made clear), a convoluted "twist" about how the virus has been spread, an endless sequence where two of our heroes walk through dimly lit tunnels and encounter what appear to be zombies, and even an honest-to-God "old gypsy woman forewarns of danger" scene. The latter is a particular eye-roller, it's the equivalent of smashing a fruit cart in an action movie car chase, or running to the airport in a rom-com - at this point it's practically passe to even make fun of such things, let alone try to do it straight. Jake Wade Wall has never written a good movie (his best is the 2007 Hitcher, which was so close to the original they had to list Eric Red - who had NOTHING TO DO WITH IT - as a co-writer instead of the usual "based on" credit you'd see in a remake), but a lot of this is terrible even by his standards.

Another issue is that there's no real reason for keeping the two storylines separate, as there's no twist to the moment where they finally converge. I spent a good chunk of the movie assuming there was some Saw II style scenario where we were seeing one present timeline and another that occurred days or even weeks before, but no - when the bachelor party guys stumble across Astin and the scientists it's clear that their respective events have been occurring more or less simultaneously. So why are they kept apart for as long as they are? When the guys are heading to the island they spot the building on the opposite side from their destination beach, and it's quite clear that it's the medical facility, but yet the movie doesn't actually "reveal" that for another 45 minutes. Part of the problem with both storylines is that they're way too underpopulated, with four characters each; at least if they were combined earlier (there's only like 20-25 minutes left when they meet up) there could be some additional tension as alliances are created or shattered. It might have also allowed them to reveal their stupid twist in a less clunky way (without spoiling it, as the credits roll we get a bunch of flashbacks poorly explaining how ____ was able to manipulate the others, though WHY this person is doing it is still unclear).

All of the above is more disappointing when you consider that everything that isn't the script actually ain't all that bad. The acting is fine, director Kaare Andrews stages some solid sequences (particularly the opening, slo-mo bit with Astin reacting to his dead family), the score has a touch of Ravenous to it (awesome!), and again, Guastini's FX are terrific. The underlit photography aside, there's nothing technically wrong with the movie (great titles, too), but it's all in service of a script that is convoluted for no reason and focuses on horribly vague characters, not to mention not very likable ones. Most of the characters in the original were assholes too, but the sense of humor made it work - we liked seeing them get what was coming to them, when applicable. These guys are just jerks, but the serious tone makes me think I'm supposed to be a bit concerned for their well-being. Even when it DOES get a bit exploitative, like the catfight, it doesn't feel like anyone's heart is really in it.

So we have a wholly unrelated sequel (CF2 had a few returning characters, if you recall - this doesn't even take place in the same country) with a tone that is a complete 180 from the others, making me wonder who exactly this movie is for. Won't CF fans be annoyed at the lack of humor, not to mention weirdness? Where's this movie's "Pancakes!"? Is it a prequel to the others, since the virus appears to be new? If so, why set it so far away? I know there's a fourth film (seemingly with a different creative team; Wall is not writing, thankfully), so maybe that will bridge them together more successfully, but will anyone show up to find out? I can't imagine, 12 years after the first film and 4-5 after the not-loved 2nd one, that anyone will be salivating over another entry after this one. Not every horror fan shares my OCD obsession with sticking with franchises until they are completely done (if I can stick around through all 11 Puppet Masters when I've only liked 2 of them, I can certainly get to a 4th Cabin Fever). Horror fans may be more forgiving than with other genres, but even we have our limits.

What say you?

*Also the plot of Hostel III. I guess this is just what you do when making threequels to Eli Roth movies. Least we know if Thanksgiving ever gets made they have a story to end the trilogy!

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

JULY 26, 2014

GENRE: SURVIVAL, THRILLER
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

A thought occurred to me during The Purge: Anarchy, after I realized that it barely counted as a horror movie - the concept COULD lend itself to a variety of genres. They've covered home invasion horror and now urban thriller (it's more like Judgment Night than the average horror movie), and I could easily come up with comedic entries (stick the Griswolds in the thick of it in an area where crimes are less murder-y), drama (modern Romeo & Juliet or Hatfield & McCoys scenario with the two families stuck together during the Purge? ), or even sci-fi since it's already taking place in the (near) future - what happens 50 years from the first Purge?

Indeed, the biggest complaint folks had about the first film is that they established this fascinating scenario that could be the backdrop for any number of stories, and opted to go with a home invasion movie that only fleetingly invoked the concept - what a waste! Thankfully, returning writer/director James DeMonaco listened, and with a little more money to spend (still much less than any other movie playing on 3000 screens right now) he set his sequel on the streets, where the concept never once leaves the equation. Our quintet of heroes (a couple, a mother and daughter, and The Punisher, essentially, played by Frank Grillo) are always on the move, always under threat from both their pursuers (which include the masked folks they highlight in the trailer to make the film look more horror-ish than it really is) and their perceived saviors.

One of the best sequences in the film involves the group entering the home of one of their friends, where things just seem "off" right from the start. The friend keeps snipping at her sister, and the sister is very mean to her husband, while their parents are overly nice. You know SOMETHING is going to happen, and the fact that there's not much anyone can do about it elevates the suspense, keeping the tension nice and high despite the fact that they're off the streets and safe from snipers and such. DeMonaco also paints a bigger picture of what folks do on the night - there's a (unintentional?) big laugh moment when we see a good ol' boy plop himself on his roof with a six pack and a sniper rifle - this is just how he celebrates. Another pair of Purgers give a respectable nod to the driver of an armored truck that's going about its own thing, only to get mowed down by a guy with a .50 cal in the back of it.

However, that's it. I guess we can assume that the folks who might want to use the occasion to rob a Best Buy or steal new cars to replace their junky old Chevys (totally just theoretical ideas, not remotely what I'd consider if the Purge was real, of course) are too scared to go outside what with all the murderers, but since it's definitely a "Let's use the occasion to wipe out poor people" affair, would the traditional Purgers (the ones who didn't take the time to install a .50 cal in the back of their truck) be OK with a middle class guy just trying to embellish his home theater for free? Is there a "Purge code"? On that front, DeMonaco fails yet again to really dive into the nitty gritty about his scenario - it's fun to ask questions about Purge logic on Twitter to make your followers laugh ("Can I file my taxes that day and cheat?"), but some are actually legit issues that might arise.

For example, near the end of the film a major character is shot, but doesn't die - the Purge ends before the shooter can take him out definitively. However, he's injured badly, and has to be raced to the hospital - if he died, does the shooter have to answer for his crime, since he died after Purge hours? And they still haven't explained what happens to people with legitimate health emergencies during the time - do pregnant women going into labor have to just wait it out? And before you say "If they were that close to their due date they'd just go to the hospital early" - my wife delivered three weeks early, after a labor so mild she considered going into work before we learned what was actually happening. Shit happens, can't always plan ahead.

On that note, other people have questioned the logic of why the young couple (Matt Saracen and Nikki of Nikki and Goddamn Paulo fame) was even out as the Purge was about to start, but I just assume the world has a law of sorts instructing folks to carry on as normal on that day (March 21, 2023 would be a Tuesday/workday, for the record). You know in Deep Impact when Morgan Freeman is like "A comet might hit us in two years, until then you have to go to work and pay your bills"? Something like that - you can't just stop your presumably important job because you were worried about the Purge. Also they're on their way to his sister's, and we see that some folks have automatic (expensive) barricades for their doors and windows (like Ethan Hawke's family in the first one) while others need to manually board them up with plywood - it's safe to assume his sister's place was well fortified and thus safer than their own, prompting the 11th hour trip after work that day.

I do question the logic for Grillo's character, however. I guess this counts as a spoiler as it's not until the final reel that he lays it all out, but it's been made pretty obvious by pictures on his wall, a visit from his ex-wife, etc - Grillo plans to murder the guy that killed his son. But even though he knows where the guy lives (he even disabled one of the guy's barriers two weeks earlier) and has no other Purge business, he waits until it starts to leave his house and drive there. Why didn't he just hang out in the neighborhood, pop the guy the second the Purge began, and then go home to be safe for the rest of it? I know the answer is "Then there'd be no movie" but since we don't know much about his character (he's not even named) we can't just make assumptions to explain his behavior. If we knew he was a lawyer and had a trial that day preventing him from getting a move on, fine - but there's nothing to pin it on, and thus it seems like a plot hole. It's weird that DeMonaco began his career strictly as a screenwriter, as he is seemingly better at directing (or trusting a DP) than writing; the film looks great (if a bit dark at times) but a lot of the dialogue will make you cringe, as many folks speak in broad strokes and as if the other characters in the room weren't just as aware of what was happening. Hearing characters say things like "Those guys are still after us!" reminded me of watching a TV show where characters need to remind us of what was going on after the commercial break.

But logic/dialogue issues aside, it's a pretty good movie, and by embracing the actual Purge it comes out as superior to the first. The ensemble nature is a good idea, pitting many of the non-Grillo characters as fair game to get killed, and even without much backstory for any of them it's easy to see that they're all from different walks of life, allowing for easier audience sympathy than the first film had ("oh no, not this rich family!"). The built-in possibility for endless sequels makes it easier to forgive all of the questions an audience might have, as you can just assume they'll answer it in the next one, and with the one attempt to tie it into the first film proving to be a dud (a character from the first shows up, and not a single person in the audience reacted), not to mention a roughly equal box office take (maybe even a bit higher) I think it's safe to assume they'll embrace the anthology aspect of it going forward.* This is great; as much as I love mythologies, following this or that person every time would box things in and keep us from getting the full spectrum of the event. What happens in rural areas? Or in prisons? I'd be bored watching Lena Headey's character or any of the survivors here heading to one of those places and giving a "I can't believe this is happening to me again!" thing.

I'd also be curious to see events from a Purger's POV, in the vein of Maniac or films like that. I know Grillo's character is one, but he's got a specific target and seemingly no desire to just randomly kill folks along the way just for target practice or something. With the budgets so low on these things and the concept itself seemingly drawing in crowds (certainly wasn't star power or even much goodwill toward the first film), they can take those kind of risks and probably still earn a mint. It's basically what the Halloween series was supposed to be, but, you know, financially successful**. Hell they can even do a prequel and show the first Purge (this is the 6th, I think) - did everyone just jump right in, or were they a bit sheepish? "Can I REALLY just kill that guy and not go to jail?"

Let's put it this way - I ended up seeing the movie twice today (once at the regular AMC, and then again when we went to a drive-in (!) and my wife wanted to stay after Lucy for the free 2nd feature, which was this) and I wasn't bored the second time. Sure, I didn't have some of the above issues after my first viewing, only noticing on the revisit, but if it more or less held my attention 9 hours after seeing it for the first time, I have to assume they're on the right track. They probably can't ever answer all of our questions (like the rules in Gremlins, they have to get things underway before we start asking the equivalent of "Well when is it NOT after midnight?"), but as long as they keep diving into what being in a Purge is actually like instead of using it as an excuse for a traditional genre film (like the first film), I'll keep coming back.

What say you?

*Until Purge Five: All In, where the characters from all previous entries join forces for a heist. Which would be legal.

**Halloween 4 "saved" the franchise, but did you know it actually made less money than the "bomb" 3rd film? Pretty funny.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Night School (1981)

JULY 11, 2014

GENRE: SLASHER
SOURCE: DVD (BORROWED)

I don't know if we can ever get a definitive list of all the post-Halloween/Friday the 13th slashers from 1980-1982/3 - there were so damn many, and many of them independently released by distributors who are long since defunct - for every well known entry like My Bloody Valentine or The Burning, there are probably a half dozen To All A Goodnights (a Christmas slasher even an astute fan such as myself only heard about a few years ago). But I'll keep trying to see them all, and I'm happy to report I can finally cross Night School off my list, as it's been on my radar for years now. The reason I've been dodging it is simple - it's only available through Warner Bros "on demand" DVD service, which I find to be a ripoff as the titles are often 20 bucks and come barebones (maybe a trailer) on a disc that might not even play on your player model.

However my good friend Jared has no such bias, and has a similar "gotta see em all!" attitude, so I just borrowed his. Sucker!

As it turns out, it's a pretty decent entry in the slasherganza that elevated or marred the period, depending on your point of view. I will admit some Boston bias, but even if it was Chicago or whatever I'd still give it an extra point for being a rare metropolitan based slasher film - 99% of them stick to the woods, suburban areas, or a general single location (a school, hospital, whatever) but the killer here gets chased down major Boston streets, with dozens of people/potential victims around - plus you get a kill at the legendary New England Aquarium. We've all seen a head end up in a domestic fish tank, but a giant, multistory one with a big ass turtle nipping at the disembodied head as it floats to the bottom and terrifies an old lady and her grandson? Only in Night School, far as I know!

The non-isolated setting also means that the movie is slightly more logical than most slashers, and by that I mean there's a police presence. In fact the hero cop is the actual star of the movie - we're with him far more often than we are with any of the film's victims, most of whom only have a scene or two before their death scene (and they're all women - only one male is killed in the movie, and it's mostly by a cop's hand). It's actually more like a Giallo than an American slasher in that regard; there's no central "group" of characters per se, despite the "Night School" premise. Like Scream 2, the movie explains the connection between the victims before tossing it out - they're "all" students of this one dickhead Professor at the titular night school, but the next death after the cops figure that out is of a waitress who flirted with him.

It's because of this kill that the identity of the killer becomes painfully obvious, assuming you hadn't already figured it out. The movie makes the mistake of having the cop zero in on the professor and also introducing a weirdo busboy, so any intelligent viewer would know it couldn't be either of them... but that only leaves one other character as a legit choice, and even their motive is pretty clear. So it fails miserably as a whodunit, despite the best efforts (the killer drives a motorcycle and wears a face-covered helmet during the kill scenes, plus gloves and a leather jacket, making it impossible to even tell if it's a man or a woman), but still works thanks to the varied kill scenes (the opening one, on a merry go round, is fantastic) and unique-ish setting for this sort of thing (then again, all the Gialli took place in big cities too).

It's also got a few impressive sequences, such as a fun bit in the diner where we know a victim's head is SOMEWHERE in the kitchen but director Ken Hughes (of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang fame!) teases it out for eternity. Is it in the giant soup pot? The fridge? On top of the fridge, where a box of melons falls down for good measure? There's also a pretty good chase scene, one that's kind of a cheat since the person being chased is actually the killer, but in context it works - another plus of the big city thing, it's actually reasonable that a budding killer might be targeted by the average city menace if they happened to be walking alone at night. Plus it has some little quirks, like the two blue collar construction guys who apparently want beef stew for breakfast, or the cop's partner, a man who is ostensibly a cop but never seems much interested in solving the case or even listening to ideas about who the killer may be. He also advises a perp in the backseat to "go on the windshield" when the man says he needs them to stop so he can pee.

And when they go to the red herring's apartment, he's got a hockey mask sitting there on his dresser. A casual horror fan will probably see this and assume it's a little nod to Jason - in fact it even got me for a second, but it's important to know that Night School came out before even the 2nd (baghead Jason) Friday, in 1981 (it actually has a 1980 copyright at the end) - the hockey mask didn't come along until Part 3 in 1982. Was Night School - with one of the least scary costumes in slasher history - an influence on the most iconic one of them all? Probably not, but it's still kind of weird that they have that mask sitting there, it's pretty much the only thing that sticks out in his entire apartment.

Another weird thing requires a SPOILER.... the killer not only goes free at the end, but the cop knows it! He confronts him/her and asks (via metaphor) if they're done killing, to which they say yes. And that's it! There's a final scene where it seems like the killer might go do him in just to tie up that loose end, but it's actually just his wacky partner playing a gag (another Giallo thing - inappropriately timed comic relief). If there was a Night School 2 I bet the killer and the cop would team up to find a new killer. Maybe this time it'd actually take place at the Night School (seriously, there's like one brief classroom scene and a couple of faculty offices, but that's the extent of the title's prominence), or we can find out how the cop fared with his girlfriend, who he has to cancel plans with to investigate the first murder... and then we never see her again. It's like she was supposed to be a target eventually but then they forgot all about her. Heh, what a goofy little movie. Have I mentioned the paint-based shower scene?

What say you?

P.S. The film was known as Terror Eyes in the UK and was on the Video Nasties list, so I was able to cross another one off on THAT list as well!

PLEASE, GO ON...

HMAD Screening: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN

I know Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan wasn't the first entry in the series that I saw (I had seen 4-6, and I THINK Part 2 before), but it may be the one I have seen the most number of times. It was one of only two Fridays I had on tape as a kid, and the other was Final Chapter which I was too scared to watch alone, reducing my exposure until I grew a pair. But Manhattan I could handle - as I mentioned before, it made me more afraid of New York than Jason, as I was too young to understand that it was Vancouver (and also a goofy script). But it was just that: a tape - I have never gotten a chance to see it PROPERLY* on the big screen, so I'm happy to announce that it's the next HMAD screening at the New Beverly!

And it's the 25th anniversary to boot! We did New Blood last year for its own 25th birthday, and it was one of the more successful HMAD shows, so I vowed to do Manhattan - a film I like a lot more than New Blood - in 2014. Sure, it's no one's favorite entry, but I think it's better than it's given credit for, as so many people fixate on the "He's only in New York for 5 minutes!" (the timing varies depending on the complainer - the actual time is around 25 minutes) without bothering to acknowledge that he was on a giant cruise ship for the first hour! The whole appeal of putting Jason in a metropolitan city was that it was something different for him - I'm not sure why people seem to forget that a ship was a new environment as well. This gave him many new implements to use (sauna rock! guitar! antenna!), a wealth of victims (Jason gets one of his highest on-screen kills counts in this one - and his 2nd biggest overall after Jason X, since a ship full of anonymous students is sunk), and a welcome change of scenery - this is one of the very few entries in the series that can be identified instantly even by a casual fan.

It also marked some major milestones for the series. Most importantly, it was the first time an actor returned to play Jason - Kane Hodder was brought back, presumably because the producers realized he was the only good thing about New Blood ("in 20 years people will still defend this rubbish mainly because he looks so great!" is what they probably said), and even though this movie was not very successful he still got asked back for the next two installments. The series may never die, but I doubt we will ever again have an actor play Jason across four movies, so Kane will forever be the most prolific Jason. It was also the last entry to be called "Friday the 13th" until the remake, as the next few entries would be "Jason ____". Likewise, it was the last film for the original Paramount era of the franchise - after the film's less than desirable box office take, they opted to let New Line take over for the next 20 years or so (Paramount recently got the series back in exchange for giving Warner Bros a piece of Chris Nolan's Interstellar). If not for studios being willing to trade their properties around, this could have been the last we ever saw of the hockey masked psychopath.

But the series has endured, which is why these screenings tend to be pretty crowded - series that are long dead don't quite have the same pull as one that's still going, as old school fans who want to relive their opening night memories are joined by newcomers who were far too young (possibly not even born) when the film was released. As of now we have no definitive special guests (but 3 maybes!), but Q&A or not it's gonna be a fun time. The New Beverly is located at 7165 Beverly Blvd in Los Angeles, 90036 (2 blocks west of La Brea). Street parking is easy to find - Formosa is your best bet, usually (just watch the signs on the other side streets as some of them are permit only). Tickets are 8 bucks cash or card at the door, or online at BrownPaperTickets. I'll have some DVDs to hand out for dumb trivia questions, and usually there's a guy dressed as Jason in the crowd so have your cameras ready! The fun begins at 11:59 pm on Saturday, July 19th - if there's a Q&A it will as always be BEFORE the movie, so get there on time!

And dig the poster by Jacopo Tenani! He's been doing these for a couple of years now but I dare say this is my favorite one that he's done. Some folks have even asked about getting a print copy - if you're interested let me know! With enough demand maybe we can have some printed up for sale. Feel free to post the image on your own site if you want to help pimp the show, but PLEASE credit Jacopo if you do!

*The Cinefamily showed it a couple years ago, but the crowd was typically awful and yelling at the screen the whole time, so I spent half the time rolling my eyes, looking back to tell someone to shut up, or exchanging sighs with my friend. So it doesn't count.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Lake Placid (1999)

JULY 4, 2014

GENRE: COMEDIC, MONSTER
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

I only saw Lake Placid once, during its theatrical run in the summer of 1999. My strongest recollection of the experience was that I had to see it at Chunky's, which was sort of like an Alamo Drafthouse in that you order food (and drink, though I was 2 years away from being able to take advantage) that's brought to you while the movie is on, but instead of a stadium theater it was a regular level one, meaning the waitresses would block your view of the screen as they came and went - I didn't go to it very often. However, our local theater chain had some beef with FOX at the time, so it was Chunky's or nothing for a lot of their mid-level releases (big stuff like Phantom Menace would play, but this, Ravenous, Office Space, etc - all MIA).

I also remember not thinking much of it; like Steve Miner's previous movie (H20) it felt like it was missing a giant chunk of its middle - there's a lot of setup and then a quick finale. Also it seemed strangely deserted; in H20 it at least had some excuse (the camping trip, though given the permission slip aspect I would think there'd be more forgetful kids or ones with strict parents that had to stay behind), but in Placid it's bizarre how rare you see anyone beyond the handful of main characters. I mean, it HAD to have been pitched as "Jaws but with a crocodile!" but there's no "close the beaches" or even an evil human character around - the one guy who was scuba diving in the movie's opening sequence seems to be the only guy who ever wanted to go in the lake. So the rest of the movie is a bunch of folks trying to kill/capture this thing, but WHY? What will be prevented?

But while it doesn't quite work as a monster movie (though Miner thankfully used an animatronic croc for the most part, keeping CGI to a minimum), it's a solid character comedy, courtesy of a script by (of all people) David E. Kelley. Anti-spoiler ahead - none of our four leads get killed, which is great as it allows for a minor, not too generic romance to blossom between Bill Pullman and Bridget Fonda (who seriously needs to return to movies - she's too damn beautiful and charming to waste), as well as a lot of fun antagonistic banter between Oliver Platt and Brendan Gleeson. Some of it is clearly inspired by Quint/Hooper, but it doesn't matter - I would happily watch a TV show of the two of these guys as mismatched partners (Ryan from Shock suggested one where they investigate cryptozoological happenings - SOLD!). It's legitimately sweet when Gleeson is the first to dive into the water to save Platt when he's in danger during the climax, considering how much they hated each other in the earlier parts of the movie.

Back to Jaws, another thing that works in the movie's favor is how they split the three character types (Brody, Hooper, Quint) among four people, making it seem less like a ripoff. There's a bit of Brody in both Pullman and Gleeson, there's a bit of Hooper in Platt and Fonda, and Quint's stuff is split between Platt and Gleeson. So not only do they seem less generic, it also makes it harder to guess who will die - if I hadn't spoiled it (sorry) you'd spend the entire movie thinking that either Platt or Gleeson would die for sure, but which one? So you get slightly more suspense than you do from the average Syfy monster movie (a sub-genre which, somewhat ironically, now includes three sequels to this), but also a full quartet of people you genuinely like in an era where making even ONE likable protagonist seemed to be too hard for some filmmakers.

And that brings me to my main criticism - why is this an R rated movie? There's a nice gore bit on that first kill, but the second (there are only two human deaths, though the croc takes a few animals down) is played almost as a ZAZ type gag, and probably wouldn't have gotten the movie an R on its own. Instead, the bulk of the R rating comes from F-bombs, but in this kind of movie (and with these kind of characters) they're not "necessary" for lack of a better word. Many of them are played for shock value, courtesy of Betty White - at the time (1999) it wasn't a cliche to have her show up and say naughty things, so I guess it's fine. Still, if you were sorting your monster movies, you would expect to see this movie alongside the tonally similar (but PG-13) Tremors and Arachnophobia - not other R rated monster flicks like Deep Blue Sea and The Relic.

But while the breezy tone and engaging characters make up for the lack of action, I can't quite forgive the repetition of the plot - the movie is basically our heroes going out into the water, having a death-free encounter, regrouping, then going back out with a new tracker toy or weapon and repeating the cycle. Again since there's no one in the damn water besides these people, it makes the movie feel stakes-free, something that could have been prevented if they changed the scenery or didn't go out in the water so quickly into the narrative (and/or stayed there once they did). Granted, Kelley isn't exactly the first guy you'd think of to plot a horror film, but Miner's been around long enough to know better.

However it wouldn't have three sequels without its fans, and despite only being half as old as their usual fare, Scream Factory has put together a pretty nice special edition for the movie's Blu-ray debut. There's no commentary, but they got Miner (and Pullman, and some other crew folk) to contribute new interviews for a fun 30 minute retrospective. Miner wouldn't contribute to any of the newer Friday the 13th retrospectives, so getting him is a nice little bonus, and editor Marshall Harvey is always fun to listen to. Then there's a (VHS?) collection of behind the scenes footage from working with the animatronic croc, a vintage featurette, and the usual trailers and TV spots, including one where a critic claims it's "This year's Anaconda!" (apparently in 1999 this would be considered a rave?). The transfer is fine; nothing that will blow your mind, but not over-DNR'd like some other Fox releases, and respectable color/detail.

At 82 minutes and without any memorable deaths (this was released only a couple weeks before Deep Blue Sea, which contains the greatest Sam Jackson exit in history - and there are a lot to choose from), Lake Placid doesn't really have much weight to it - it's not BAD at all, but it just doesn't give you much to chew on (pun acknowledged and apologized for). Fans of it will be happy with this release, but it's hard to justify a blind buy for a movie you probably won't revisit. I'd say rent it but you guys killed the idea of video stores, so I dunno what to tell you. Maybe if Scream can get a hold of the Buffy movie (also never properly respected on disc) they can do a "FOX horror/comedy double feature" release that will be more enticing at a cost?

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Deliver Us From Evil (2014)

JULY 3, 2014

GENRE: POSSESSION
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

My well documented love for Armageddon aside, there is no question that Jerry Bruckheimer's solo work on the whole pales next to the films he made with the late Don Simpson - it's kind of funny that one of the best post-Simpson films is Enemy of the State, which still listed him as a producer (I assume it was developed before his passing). Sure, he had some big hits with the Pirates series and the two (sigh, where's 3?) National Treasure movies, but for every one of those there's a couple of Bad Companys or Kangaroo Jacks. So it wasn't his name that drew me to Deliver Us From Evil, though it did add some curiosity since this would be his first genre film since 1982's Cat People* remake.

No, it was Scott Derrickson's role as writer/director that had me excited, as he was behind one of my favorite horror flicks of 2012 (Sinister) as well as 2005's The Exorcism Of Emily Rose - for my money one of the best of its type (basically #2 to Exorcist, if memory serves, though I certainly have tons of fun with the gonzo 70s ripoffs). Deliver would have him returning to the exorcism genre, but rather than a standard "this girl is possessed and after we've exhausted all medical/scientific possibilities let's call a priest" structure it would take the form of a Se7en style police thriller, with Eric Bana playing Ralph Sarchie, a real life cop with a penchant for paranormal-tinged cases.

So on paper it sounds like a home run, right? You get a horror guy doing what he does best working with Bruckheimer, who can bring the resources for a summer blockbuster about cops, right? But the thing is, the movie wasn't meant to open on the vaunted July 4th weekend - it was originally set for January (which would have our expectations in the toilet), only for Sony to get confident in the film and bump it up 6 months. I assume it was last summer's smash success of The Conjuring that gave them the idea - another R rated movie with "based on a true story" flair, from a director coming off a very profitable Jason Blum production (Wan with Insidious, Derrickson with Sinister). Therefore it's best to keep the "summer" part of your expectations in check - this is NOT a big budget, End of Days style megamovie that blends the action and horror genres. In fact there's almost zero Bruckheimer influence on display at all - Bana has worked with him before (in Black Hawk Down), but otherwise it doesn't display any of his input. The Christopher Young score is in line with his other genre offerings, not a Hans Zimmer-y presentation of bombast, and humor is kept to a minimum (that it's one of Brucky's rare R rated offerings should have tipped you to that - there's some really grim stuff here).

Once I realized that the Bruckheimer machine didn't overpower Derrickson's (and Paul Boardman's) script, I settled into the movie a lot easier (hey, I don't get out much these days - I was kind of HOPING for dumb action stuff mixed into the horror! Instead it starts with a dead baby about the same size as the one I was leaving for a few hours). As I said earlier, it's sort of like a possession-tinged Se7en, with our two hero cops (Bana's partner is played by Joel McHale, from the only thing I love on the same level as Armageddon) chasing a villain through their rainy city (it's set in New York but the level of rain seems more Seattle-y to me). But it's not a serial killer they're after; one night they get two seemingly unrelated calls (a domestic disturbance and a freak "accident" at the zoo) and discover that they are connected. As they track down leads and uncover an incident that occurred in Abu Dhabi (seen, briefly, in the film's prologue), it becomes clear that they're dealing with something supernatural.

Enter Édgar Ramírez as Father Mendoza, who knew one of the victims and seems to know more about what's going on than the cops. Here I was reminded of the show Grimm - we have our hero but two partners (on Grimm, which I gave up watching after a few episodes, he's got his cop partner and his werewolf partner), crowding the plot a bit and diffusing some of its buddy movie spirit (which was working quite well, with McHale busting the more serious Bana's balls but also proving to be an able fighter). I love the guy, but he could have been removed from the movie entirely or as a shock kill 20 minutes in - indeed, McHale more or less exits the movie for what seems like 40 minutes once Sarchie and Mendoza begin their alliance, only to return for a sequence where Mendoza is sitting out in a car the whole time. Also, I don't think McHale's character actually has a conversation with Mendoza, but then again no one really does. If I didn't know better I'd swear Mendoza was meant to be a ghost or imaginary character, as he bizarrely never really interacts with anyone else in the cast, despite being such a prominent part of it. There's a scene late in the film where Bana makes a phone call for backup without identifying who he called - I assumed it was Mendoza, but it's actually just two other cops that share his desk area (these two seemed like they were more significant characters at one point, but they're largely just blurry dudes in the background behind Bana).

The movie's real strength stems from its setpieces - I realized as I sat down for the movie that the trailers never really explained what the movie was about, instead offering up giant chunks from a few individual scenes (including the climactic exorcism), which was probably the right call. The investigation isn't really a mystery - it only takes about a half hour or so for Sarchie to figure out who the bad guy is, with the rest of the movie devoted to trying to find him as Mendoza convinces Sarchie about the possession part of the deal (as is typical, Sarchie doesn't believe in God and this sort of stuff and thus needs convincing). So if the trailers showed any of it there wouldn't be much to invest the audience in - best to leave that for our discovery (the reviewer says after explaining a big chunk of it - sorry) and just focus on cool/creepy stuff like self-rolling owls and a possessed dude making windows break all around him and such. Luckily the trailer didn't spoil the obligatory cat scare - it's actually one of the best in ages (oddly End of Days' one worked too - what is it about New York set action/horror films?).

Another thing the trailer thankfully avoided was how a part of the plot involves The Doors, as it would have kept me from seeing it until Blu-ray, where I could mute it. I know they have their fans and were a big infuence on later rock acts, but my GOD do I hate this band (I once stated that I didn't know what the word "pretentious" meant until I saw the Stone biopic). "Break On Through" is OK I guess, but all of their other songs just grate me on a level I usually reserve for pop garbage like Black Eyed Peas - so when one of the possessed folks started rattling off lyrics (think "Connect the cuts" from Devil Inside), and Sarchie began hearing one of their songs when no one else could (that must be what true hell feels like - no one to share the misery of "People Are Strange"), I just sighed heavily. I mean, using ANY rock song as a clue is kind of hokey (see: "All Along The Watchtower" in Battlestar Galactica), but when it's these assholes... sorry, movie, you lost me for a bit.

But overall I enjoyed it; I wish the mystery was a bit more drawn out and/or things escalated to something more unnerving (the possessed guy kidnaps Sarchie's family and we're supposed to think they might be dead, but come on), but it had several terrific setpieces, three charismatic actors in the lead roles, and an attempt at blending two sub-genres that you rarely see together. I also got to thinking - 90% of the "first time I watched Exorcist" stories are from people who saw it at a very young age and it left a deep, scarring impression on them - which can make exorcism/possession movies they see as adults harder to appreciate. I, however, didn't see it until I was 19, and so while I understood and appreciated its power, it didn't really scare me all that much, so there's less of a hurdle for other possession movies to clear. I think it's easy to dismiss all of these as "Nowhere near as good as Exorcist!" when the movie warped your impressionable mind (indeed, it may be why I can be so harsh on haunted house movies, as I saw Poltergeist at such a young age), so keep that in mind when you're reading outright pans of this one. It's not perfect, but it's a solid bit of entertainment and (obviously) a nice alternative to everything else out there right now (not a single building destroyed!). And it makes me sad that we're going to lose Derrickson for a few years while he plays in the big Marvel box - there aren't too many horror directors that are committed to grim/disturbing fare for our multiplexes. Hopefully he comes back - long as he leaves The Doors behind.

What say you?

*Cat People also featured a zoo, which is a funny bit of trivia, as one of Deliver's highlights is a scene set in the Bronx Zoo - the first film to shoot there since Altered States, from what I understand.

PLEASE, GO ON...

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